In Australia we are about to undertake a plebiscite regarding the issue of marriage equality. It is a clumsy effort by our government to try and address the issue of whether or not the marriage of same sex couples should be permitted. Many Christians will see this as an opportunity to take a moral high ground, based on their interpretation of Scripture, that marriage is a Christian institution and same sex marriage should not be permitted. What kind of message does this send to the wider community? How is the church’s so called moral position a reflection on the heart of the gospel in the Person of Jesus Christ?
The announcement of the Incarnation to the shepherds in their field was of tremendous news:
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”
There was no doom and gloom with the arrival of Jesus Christ who is now God among humanity and He is pleased to have it this way. The shepherd were considered the most lowly of all people in Jewish society but had the privilege of having such an announcement made to them. They became heralds of this amazing event. The last line might be rendered, And on earth peace in men . . . The Incarnation had an immediate impact on our humanity, universally.
I believe we have no business to make any so called moral platform on such a divisive issue such as this. We live in a democracy and not a theocracy. We must be sensitive to the feelings of the LGBT community and not be so hasty to pass judgment lest we be judged ourselves. We live in a very pluralistic society where the position of the church has been seriously eroded in recent times. With the many scandals in the mainstream denominations heavily exposed in the media of its dark past concerning the abuse towards children and young adults, the whole of the Christian movement has been impacted by this monstrosity. To now suddenly make a protest over the issue of same sex marriage entrenches our hypocrisy even deeper into our institutional grave. In the light of the reality of God disclosed in the Person and work of Jesus Christ, this is not as black and white as some might think.
Not so long ago, a woman who was divorced was looked upon with disgrace purely because it was believed by their Christian society’s scriptural interpretation that it was absolutely forbidden. Somehow or other, the man often escaped the shame. All shops, and all manner of business were closed on Sunday because it was considered the Lord’s day and people were suppose to go to church. If one was gay, they could be imprisoned if caught. Yet, the ones putting the laws in place were often perpetrators of such so called grievous sins. Men were considered the head of the woman in marriage where women were afforded very little rights. These were the days when the church exercised a greater deal of power in exercising their version of church law over wider society. Many still believe that it is the church’s role to uphold the moral value and police it over the rest of society, even on those who profess no allegiance to the church at all.
This approach to imposing Christian values on wider society is more often unfruitful in facilitating the good news of the gospel. It is perceived the role of the church is to be the moral policeman over the rest of society where they tell them what they can and can’t do. When I have disclosed I am a Christian to some non-Christian people, they often try to tell me what they believe I can and can’t do. One person told me I was not allowed to swear so I said to him, “F*#k no! That can’t be true! I think I’m going to hell!” He was a little shocked at my response and did not challenge me any further. (I must apologise if this offends you but there is a saying that can be applied here: You can take a man out of the drug culture but you can’t take the drug culture out of the man. I sometimes slip back into my dark past ways ;-) ). I can see what really went on here. There is such a strong perception that we are enforcing our moral values onto the community around us. So the community will try and keep us on our toes by telling us what we believe. The question is: where did this come from?
I have been going through the writings of the ancient fathers right from the beginning through to the Nicene era along with those who adhered and defended it. I can see clearly there was a strong emphasis on Jesus Christ as the Tree of Life. When we read Polycarp, there are three things he presses very strongly over and over again:
- Do not gossip and slander
- Do not judge
- Do not exercise power over people with money
It was these three things that killed Jesus. He was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver by Judas. He was accused through the gossip and slander of His witnesses against Him. And He was judged and condemned based on false testimony. If we exercise power over people through the love of money or we listen to gossip and slander or we judge people according to our interpretation of the law (which can vary through the 30,000+ denominations throughout the world) then we re-crucify Jesus over and over again. How is it that so many people rely on some sort of law to determine what is right and wrong or good and bad? Furthermore, one group might call a ‘bad’ good or a ‘good’ bad, and another group may say the opposite. How do we know who is right? Well, as far as I am concerned, if we choose to adjudicate on ethical matters, we are all wrong. The only way we can determine good or bad is to turn away from the Tree of Life, the Person of Jesus Christ and seek our investigation through the tree of knowledge of good and evil. To satisfy our choice over ethical matters, we lust after the flesh instead of the Spirit, i.e., the Spirit of Christ.
We all know the Sermon on the Mount. Do we realise this sermon is God, in Person, exegeting His own Law before the Pharisees, the Saducees and Teachers of the Law and calling them out on their own hypocrisy? He delivered this Law to Moses intended as a command and a promise (הָיָה – hayar), the promise it would be fulfilled in Him for the sake of the whole human race. Jesus, God from True God, of the same being with the Father, accused the prestigious class of Jewish people that they were all murders, adulterers, holding grudges while making their offering at the alter, empty promises, and so on. He was making an absolute mockery over their perfectionist outlook of the Law and the belief that their Talmud saves them from it. No one can be saved through the Law and therefore our effort to judge people according to it is re-crucifying Jesus over and over again. Jesus Christ is the fulfilment of the Law for our sake, i.e. the sake of the entire human race. Making a moral stand over any ethical issue is spitting in the face of Jesus Christ. It is spitting in the face of God.
It goes without saying that according to the Sermon on the Mount, I am a murderer, adulterer, thief, a liar, a coveter, dishonourable to my parents, and so on. If I break one tiny piece of the Law then I break all of it. I do not worship the Lord with all my heart, soul, and strength and I do not love my neighbour as well as I should. These all concern the Ten Commandments. I know that ALL my brothers and sisters In Christ are all in the same boat with me. Where do I turn? Of course I turn away from the demands of the Law, which are laid out according to the flesh who sources their information from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and turn to the Tree of Life. When we realise how dark and depraved we are, we are brought to our knees in gratitude to the loving kindness of God, the lover of humanity and rejoice at such an act He has undertaken. We freely receive and we should likewise freely give. We are loved first then we love one another. But when it comes to the gay community, there is a switch. Our loving has now reached its limit and the gift we are asked to freely give is now held back. As murderers, adulterers, idolaters, thieves, liars, blasphemers, coveters and so on, we point our finger at the gay community and say, “NO!!” We turn away from the Tree of Life and scramble willingly to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and deny them what this secular society says is only fair.
This is where it becomes a tension. We have to explore the root of the cause as to our protest. Based on Truth of the gospel which rest on the ‘Hinge’ (Cardinal literally means hinge) of the Apostolic message of Christ delivered to us, we have what is commonly referred to the ‘Rule of Faith.’ This rule of Faith is the one single rule of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. He is the Cornerstone that shapes all the ways we think of how God works towards us. When we use the French word canon, it is based on the ancient Greek word κανόν which means ‘rule’ the standard by which all are measured by, not the rule as in terms of a juridical law. Jesus Christ is the Rule of Faith for all humanity. Through Tertullian, being the lawyer turned this canon, the “Rule of Faith,” into the ‘law of faith’ where there were laws drawn up as a means of showing proof that one was a Christian. This was the beginning of the moving away from the Tree of Life to sourcing the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil to determine what was right and wrong and good and bad. This was picked up and reinforced in the Middle Ages and turned into a magisterium and gradually filtered out into the Protestant and Evangelical communities. This has been so ingrained into our religious psyche that we feel it is normal to source this law of faith while ignoring the Rule of Faith, Jesus Christ. The Christian life grounded on morality overtook the ontological relational ground established in the flesh, blood and bones of Jesus Christ. The hardest thing for an average Christian to come to grips is the fact that Jesus Christ shows us the Triune God loves us even in our depravity. It is very difficult to work both the Rule of Faith with the law of faith together without compromising on the significance of the Person and work of Jesus Christ.
This rule of faith has drifted into Biblical exegesis where sin has been brought into the juridical lens of our interpretation. This is especially so in a passage like the Woman caught in Adultery in Chapter 8. We all are very familiar with the story. Towards the end when Jesus tells the accusers that if they are without sin, they may cast the first stone. They all left one by one.
“Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.” “
This really tells it like it is. What? You say, “Ah, but it says, “Go from now on sin no more.” Yes it does. In light of the fact that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), He must be saying something else. I believe Jesus is telling the woman something like this: “You have just witnessed what God has done on this moral issue, don’t forget this!” The accusers walked away because they had no right to accuse. God was present before them as the “One who knew no sin,” and He did not condemn her. Jesus was without sin and He did not cast the first stone. Those who are forgiven much, love much! She freely received, now she must freely give. This is the Rule of Faith at work and all we can think about is what can this event tell us about the law of faith. How can we be sure this woman will not fall into sin again? IT IS NOT LIKE THAT! If there was a gay person brought before Jesus, would Jesus make an exception and change who He eternally is in Himself?
This is the dilemma I am in: If I vote No to marriage equality, am I turning away from the Tree of Life, Jesus Christ, and making a personal adjudication? If I turn away from Jesus Christ and try and navigate through this ethical issue, am I not being like a Teacher of the Law and a Pharisee? Am I turning to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and sourcing it to determine this decision while turning my back on Jesus Christ? The death of Jesus Christ spelt the death of all ethics. As a murderer, an adulterer, a blasphemer, a liar, a thief, an idolator failing at every step through life to worship the Lord with all my heart, mind, soul and with all my strength and turning my nose up at my neighbour and then I decide that marriage equality is a sin against God and therefore they cannot have it! I, as a sinner of the worst kind, past judgment on marriage equality because I believe it is a sin and therefore I decide, knowing full well that I am full of sin, that I can cast the first stone and say no to marriage equality. By saying no to marriage equality, am I implying that Christian marriage is without sin? Yet, I know a large number of divorced Christians. The incidence of divorce, infidelity and sexual activity outside of marriage within the Christian community is quite high considering the level of well publicised prohibitions within many evangelicals of such activity.
If we believe in a democracy and place aside the fact that we are not a theocratically based system of government, then this is a decision that has been handed to the Australian people where voters number into the millions and are from all walks of life. I believe taking a moral high ground is a serious misrepresentation of Jesus Christ. It turns the gospel from a free gift of grace of God Himself into our lives at the most intimate level deep within our beings into a formula based on getting it right apart from the gospel based on one’s own effort. Saying, NO based on a so called Christian moral/ethical position is painting over this free gift of grace with an evil legal, juridical brush.
Just because I said voting no purely on ethical and moral grounds is not justified does not mean one has to vote yes to marriage equality. That is entirely up to each and everyone of us. It is a secret ballot and anyone can vote one way or the other and are not required to disclose which way they voted. All I am saying is this: Do not use the gospel as a moral/ethical ground to vote no as I believe it brings it into disrepute. It sends the wrong message to the wider community. I am not saying which way I will vote as it is my own private matter. If one wants to vote no, then do so because it is your democratic right to do so. If one wants to vote yes, then it is also your democratic right to do so. Vote one way or the other but keep in mind that we are gripped in the loving kind embrace of the Father in Jesus Christ in the very same way He has gripped the LGBT ect community in this very same embrace.